For as long as one can remember, the Member of Parliament for Assin Central, Kennedy Agyapong has been making disgraceful and dangerous comments. None of those comments have elicited a response from his party, the New Patriotic Party (NPP), Parliament or his constituency. When he was detained by the BNI for making inflammatory comments, his supporters camped outside chanting until his release. There was not a whimper from the party about the revolting ethnocentric comments that led to his arrest.
There was nothing when he went on radio and called on supporters to beat MPs who undermine the party’s presidential candidate. Neither party nor Parliament winced over his outbursts on MultiTV. There was no condemnation when he publicly traded insults with radio presenter, Afia Schwarzenegger and nothing when he threatened and released nude pictures of her. Ghana’s democracy hasn’t reached the point where personalities resign or lose their jobs for putting their foot in their mouths. Politicians and appointed officials on both sides have been getting away with unspeakable acts since the beginning of the fourth republic. Seldom are these people who attack others ever condemned. When there is some form of condemnation, it is light.
And so it’s no surprise that Kennedy Agyapong has done it again with the serious allegation that the Chairperson of the Electoral Commission, Charlotte Osei traded sex for her position. Speaking at a campaign rally in Asokwa in the Ashanti Region, Agyapong threatened to deal with Mrs. Osei if the 2016 elections were rigged on her watch. His comments are hurtful, offensive and sexist. His comments hurt and undermine the person and authority of Mrs. Osei. It normalizes the discrimination and the abuse women face in Ghana. It reinforces the negative stereotypes that devalue women and reduce our existence to just our vaginas.
Thankfully, the public condemnation has been swift. Many, many right-thinking members of our society have rebuked Kennedy Agyapong. Even the people whose voices are usually absent when misogynistic comments are made found their voices to join the calls for a retraction and apology. People like the Gender Minister, Nana Oye Lithur, Foreign Affairs Minister, Hanna Tetteh and Betty Mould Iddrisu have all joined calls on leaders of the NPP to compel him to apologize, sanction him or distance themselves from the comments.
Reasonable ask, right?
But as always, the issue has been reduced to a useless game of NDC/NPP equivalency. The strange choruses from the women and some men from the NDC has turned the issue into a partisan one. Why are folks calling on party leaders to disavow Kennedy Agyapong? Where were these people when Baba Jamal insulted an NPP woman. Why didn’t Oye Lithur come to Ursula Owusu’s defense when she was attacked by NDC supporters. Someone on Facebook criticized me for calling on women not to vote for the NPP if the Assin North MP failed to apologize.
“Somebody should tell Nana Ama of Citi FM that she can go ahead and vote for Mahama because of the Ken Agyapong comment if she thinks it’s more serious than our National issues. Nonsense.”
NPP supporters have therefore refused to call their man to order. With comments like the one above and the deafening silence of the party’s leadership, it seems this too, is going to be water off Mr. Agyapong’s back.
But this reflects badly on the NPP who claim to have the interests of all woman at heart. Mr. Agyapong is an MP of the party and was speaking on a campaign platform to supporters of the party. Anytime someone mounts a platform covered with flag of the NPP, it is believed they’re doing so with the approval of leadership. Thus the idea that, this wouldn’t cost the NPP votes of support is laughable. So is the excuse by some supporters that he only insulted one woman, thus his sin isn’t as grievous as suggested by activists and critics.
Women are severely underrepresented in all levels of power in Ghanaian society. There are only six women in cabinet and 30 in a 275-seat legislature. When queried about -his promise of 40 percent women in government, the late President John Atta Mills said many women rejected his job offers. Many women reject political appointments and refuse to participate in politics out of fear of verbal abuse and sexist attacks on their appearance and sexuality.
So no, Mr. Agyapong’s insult didn’t only harm Mrs. Osei. His attacks on the Electoral Commissioner are also not new. Most Ghanaian women who have succeeded in their fields have at some point in their careers been accused of sleeping their way to the top. The MP’s comments only reveal the gendered attitudes on women’s role in our society. Slut-shaming is a very popular dehumanizing tool used to cower women into submission and silence, often deployed by bullies against women thought to be outspoken or ‘difficult.’
If the NPP is serious about inclusive politics and making it safe for women to participate in the governance process, it must immediately publicly call Kennedy Agyapong to order.
The party’s problems with the Electoral Commission are well documented.(If you just landed from Mars, the NPP wants either a new voters’ register or a full audit of the existing one.) These problems are not personal, they’re problems with the institution headed by this woman. One can question her capacity and competence to resolve these problems and deliver free and fair elections. She’s not above reproach. One can criticize the work of a woman without attacking her body and sexuality. So far, this is what civilized men and women in the NPP have been doing.
To allow Kennedy Agyapong, a bully who has made a career out of making crass comments about people to get away with this attack will embolden him and serve to maintain the erasure women’s voices and presence from the public space. The continuous silence of the party over the issue implies the NPP endorses his misogynistic values. Not to mention his outbursts also annoy the people in the middle (let’s be honest, majority of whom are already disillusioned with the NPP) who care about decency in the space.
I’m also stunned by the silence from Parliament. These people who are quick to take offense at trivial comments made on radio by guests and presenters. Agyapong may be a danger to himself and his party but he is also a liability to the House. His comments and behaviour don’t reflect that of an ‘Honorable’ member of the house. I expect MPs to hurl him before the Privileges Committee.
Mrs. Osei has all the qualifications for the position she occupies. It is repugnant for anyone, especially Kennedy Agyapong (a man whose claim to popularity and power is based on money and nothing else) to suggest otherwise. It is also unpardonable for any man in this culture to ever slut-shame a woman. Afterall, isn’t this the country where married men demand sex from young women in exchange for jobs and opportunities? Though we all agree this is wrong, no one shames powerful men because we know their bodies and sexualities are irrelevant to the jobs they do. Anyone with good sense would know this.
The established slut-shaming has gone on long enough. It’s time for the line for appropriate behaviour to be drawn. I draw mine under these unpardonable comments from a bully like Kennedy Agyapong. Enough is enough.